Monday, February 25, 2013

Press release: Sheriff's office says statements about inmate's death are inaccurate

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 6:00 AM

The Ehrhardt Group, the public relations firm that represents the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, issued a press release Friday afternoon on the death of inmate Ricky Russell, the subject of our lead news story in this week's Gambit.


The release doesn't contain answers to the inquiries we submitted last week, including whether security staff conducted rounds on Russell's floor and where Russell was located relative to inmates making claims that he was acting strangely the night before his death. Nor had the sheriff's office, as of Friday, handed over records — including deputy assignment sheets and supervisor sign-in logs — it says it reviewed following Russell's death. (Gambit submitted records requests for the documents on Feb. 15.)

From the press release:

However, the press release does provide some additional details. It also directly disputes inmate Jaime Hernandez's claim that Russell was laughing throughout the evening and into the early morning:

5) Inmate Hernandez alleges being awake during the night and hearing inmate Russell. He also alleges that the security officers arriving to assist in reviving inmate Russell “were the first deputies that I saw since roll call the night before.”

a) The three inmates housed in the cells next to inmate Russell dispute inmate Hernandez’s account, stating that the tier was quiet throughout the night and that inmate Russell went to sleep following the 10 pm news. These inmates and others on the tier confirmed that inmate Russell was not yelling, screaming or causing any other disturbance, as inmate Hernandez falsely alleges.

b) Out of 33 inmates housed on this tier during the night of Feb. 6, only three, including inmates Hernandez and Groves, claim to have heard a disturbance.

c) An OPSO deputy was assigned to oversee the protective custody tier, according to OPSO staffing guidelines. This deputy conducted evening roll call, in which all inmates participated and were present, including inmate Russell. This deputy then moved to the supervision module, where the deputy monitored the tier throughout the night. In addition, an OPSO sergeant conducted a security check on this tier between 11 pm and midnight on Feb. 6. Both the OPSO deputy on station and the OPSO sergeant noted that the tier was quiet and found nothing out of the ordinary. All of these activities were noted in the OPSO log book.

(Read the full press release after the jump)

OPSO RESPONDS TO MISINFORMATION ABOUT DEATH OF
INMATE RICKY RUSSELL

NEW ORLEANS — Feb. 22. 2013 — Following is a statement from Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman regarding recent misleading statements by two inmates about the Feb. 7 death of inmate Ricky Russell:

“While the matter of inmate Ricky Russell remains an open investigation, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO) believes it necessary to provide the following information in the light of recent false and misleading allegations made by inmate Jaime Hernandez and perpetuated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The Special Operations Division of the Sheriff’s Office has conducted an extensive investigation, including interviews with OPSO medical staff, deputies and rank officers working in the Conchetta Housing Facility. Investigators also interviewed each of the 33 inmates housed in the protective custody tier of the Conchetta facility overnight between Feb. 6 and 7.

Inmate Jaime Hernandez arrived in OPSO custody Feb. 7, 2012, on a charge of simple rape. Since his incarceration, he was involved in three physical altercations, two of which resulted in minor injuries and a laceration that was treated at University Hospital. Inmate Hernandez’s repeated interactions with other inmates resulted in him being transferred within the OPSO housing facilities 15 times, until he was placed in protective custody for the safety of other inmates and himself.

In the allegations distributed by the SPLC, inmate Hernandez alleges that inmate Russell made a number of comments about medical treatment and suicidal thoughts. He also speculates about inmate supervision by deputies and OPSO medical staff. The following facts refute these allegations:

1) Inmate Russell was seen by nurses on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. The nurses arrived on the third floor at approximately 3:17 pm. During their medication pass, the nurses went to inmate Russell’s cell and issued Russell two prescriptions for the week, as prescribed.

2) Neither of those prescriptions were for Depakote, which inmate Russell was never prescribed, nor were they in the quantity alleged by inmate Hernandez.

3) During the Feb. 6 medical visit, inmate Russell complained about a “jail house” tattoo that he thought may have been infected. The nurses examined the area and gave inmate Russell an antibiotic ointment for him to use. The nurses also instructed inmate Russell to fill out a sick call to have it further examined. According to the two nurses participating in the medical visit, inmate Russell never requested to see a psychiatrist. The nurses explained their policy is very clear, if any inmate requests to see a psychiatrist they immediately contact the psychiatrist.

4) Inmate Hernandez’s claims that inmate Russell “went back to his cell” following his medical visit is false. According to the two nurses working on the protective tier housing Hernandez and Russell, the nurses walk to each cell. While nurses are on the protective custody tier, inmates are not permitted to leave their cells for safety and privacy reasons.

5) Inmate Hernandez alleges being awake during the night and hearing inmate Russell. He also alleges that the security officers arriving to assist in reviving inmate Russell “were the first deputies that I saw since roll call the night before.”

a) The three inmates housed in the cells next to inmate Russell dispute inmate Hernandez’s account, stating that the tier was quiet throughout the night and that inmate Russell went to sleep following the 10 pm news. These inmates and others on the tier confirmed that inmate Russell was not yelling, screaming or causing any other disturbance, as inmate Hernandez falsely alleges.

b) Out of 33 inmates housed on this tier during the night of Feb. 6, only three, including inmates Hernandez and Groves, claim to have heard a disturbance.

c) An OPSO deputy was assigned to oversee the protective custody tier, according to OPSO staffing guidelines. This deputy conducted evening roll call, in which all inmates participated and were present, including inmate Russell. This deputy then moved to the supervision module, where the deputy monitored the tier throughout the night. In addition, an OPSO sergeant conducted a security check on this tier between 11 pm and midnight on Feb. 6. Both the OPSO deputy on station and the OPSO sergeant noted that the tier was quiet and found nothing out of the ordinary. All of these activities were noted in the OPSO log book.

6) Inmate Hernandez again falsely alleges in the filing issued by the SPLC that the “ambulance arrived about an hour after the nurses started trying to revive him.

a) According to the log book, two OPSO nurses arrived on the third floor at 5:43 am on Feb. 7. The NOFD and EMS arrived on the third floor at 6 am, 17 minutes after the OPSO medical staff.

b) Inmate Hernandez also alleges to have helped inmate Russell write a number of grievances, in which Russell would ask to see a psychiatrist.

7) At his most recent visit to the mental health staff, less than a week before his death, inmate Russell was in “good spirits”, voiced satisfaction with his medication changes, and denied suicidal ideation.

a) Inmate Russell filed 16 grievances during his incarceration with the OPSO. None of these grievances submitted by Russell included a request to see a psychiatrist. In fact, of the 16 grievances only three were directed to the Medical Department. One grievance discussed his medications and medical records. The second and third grievances to the Medical Department requested that Russell be housed in a cell by himself.

8) Lastly, inmate Hernandez and the SPLC make false allegations about the quality of the medical staff and how it monitors and treats inmates.

a) According to the two OPSO nurses assigned to this tier, the nurses visit the protective custody tier at least daily.

b) This is confirmed by the tier log book which indicates not only that the nurses make daily visits, but on a number of occasions as confirmed by the log book multiple visits by OPSO nurses were made to this tier in a 24-period.

c) While on protective custody, inmate Russell also received additional nursing evaluations three times a week that focused specifically on mental health complaints and suicidal ideation. During all of these evaluations over the recent months, inmate Russell did not demonstrate or voice suicidal tendencies.

d) Each complaint, request and grievance is coordinated personally by the Warden of the Conchetta Housing Facility, a ranking OPSO officer. This coordination includes regular in-person conversations with inmates to discuss their requests.

This is the first death in our custody since August 2011, a span of more than 18 months.

It is unfortunate that the SPLC uses false allegations by inmates to further their own agendas.

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